How to Match Paint Colors to Print Colors Easily

Green color swatch held up on wall next to color matching app on smartphone

The Spruce / Almar Creative

It can take hours looking for a specific color to paint a room in your home from printed colors. It can be frustrating to find the exact color you want, but you are unclear on how to translate that color to a paint match. Read on to learn about some common paint color matching issues and how to use technology to help you get the paint you need.

Color Matching Barriers

If you have ever had the experience of wanting to match a color from something you see on a website, you might have thought about printing out the page and taking it to a paint shop. But, as you can imagine, the are many uncontrollable variables hindering the result from being exact, such as:

  • Technology calibration: Major variables can include the calibration of the printer and the color matching system at the paint shop. You would expect the machines that generate the amount of colorant to be put into a base to develop a specific paint color would use a computer-generated code to determine the requisite insertions into the base. The two systems should communicate in a common language, but the two don't correlate as easily as you might expect.
  • Lighting: The amount of light in a room, the type (artificial versus natural), and time of day play a role in how paint colors look on a wall. You may find an excellent color but may not consider how dark it may eventually look if sunlight is not streaming through the windows or how it looks under artificial light.
  • Paint sheen: Different paint sheens, such as flat versus glossy, can also make a big difference in how the color looks. Glossy paints can get glares or bounce light in odd ways; flat colors can sometimes look dull or even darker.

Common Color Matching Values

Designers have used color values in web development or the printing industry for many years, but they haven't been commonly used in the paint color industry. This process has evolved over the years. Now, you can determine the exact values for your colors by taking your samples to a paint shop. Typically, they can determine the color based on formulaic values. Here are the most common values:

  • RGB (uses values from 0 to 255 for red, green, and blue)
  • HEX (translates RGB into hexadecimal numbers)
  • CMYK (uses values from 0 to 255 for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black)
  • HSB (stands for Hue, Saturation, and Brightness)

How Technology Converts Values Into Paint Colors

Several websites can convert RGB, CMYK, HEX, and other print-style color formats into paint colors (or, in some cases, pre-determined paint colors for certain manufacturers). One of these utilities is the EasyRGB Color Calculator. Merely choose the format you wish to use, enter the values, plus the expected light source for the area where you will apply the paint. You'll see a color swatch with links to color harmonies and commercial tints for various paint manufacturers.

Another option is an RGB to Pantone color converter, although it is not as helpful since it doesn't account for the surface and type of paint.

Apps That Help With Color Matching

You can get the values of your perfect colors on a computer screen. Virtual painting can help you narrow down your choices, aiding you in deciding between different looks. There are a vast number of apps that can help you. For example, consider looking at the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap Match app can color match, or the Behr Paint's ColorSmart app (Home Depot's line of paints).

If you use the Firefox browser, a free utility that works well is ColorZilla. This handy utility resides in the lower left-hand corner of your browser. Once activated, all you do is hover the mouse over any color, and it will provide the RGB values for the color found at the tip of the mouse pointer. You can also get this color picker for Chrome browsers too.

Using Color Sensors

When you want to match an existing wall color in your home, you can get a handy color-sensing gadget to take out the guesswork. These color sensors or colorimeters are not spectrophotometers (the expensive industry standard), but they can scan any object or surface to find its paint match or digital color value. The most popular devices are the Nix Color Sensing Mini, Color Muse, and Palette Pico. Unlike spectrometers, these pocket-sized gizmos do not have any moving parts; they're lightweight and durable, and most are under $100.